SLIPPERY ROCK - All good things must come to an end.
After the final out of the Warren baseball team's season-ending 4-2 loss to Thomas Jefferson in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA baseball playoffs Monday at Slippery Rock University, the nine members of the graduating senior class gathered on the field one last time.
When they broke the huddle, they shouted one word together in unison:
Times Observer photo by Allen Seybert
Warren’s nine seniors gather one last time after the Dragons’ 4-2 loss to Thomas Jefferson on Monday at Slippery Rock University in the PIAA Class AAA Baseball Tournament.
The Dragons - especially the nine seniors - became more of a family than a baseball team over the past four seasons. Together, they grew not only as baseball players, but as young men.
Along the way, they put something special together on the diamond.
A spectacular senior season ended Monday with a 16-4 record and the school's first District 10 Class AAA championship since 1977.
Catcher and senior Andrew Bevevino shared what was said in the huddle just moments after the end of nine outstanding high school careers.
"I just told them I loved each and every one of them and was so proud of them," said Bevevino. "We're just one big family. When you watch your brothers grow up around you and turn into the baseball players and young men that these guys have become it just fills your heart with pride. I have nothing but pride in my heart right now."
And about the game?
"We went out with fight and fire," he said. "We never gave in until the final out was recorded. I expected nothing less out of these guys."
Warren's veteran baseball coach Jeff Passaro reiterated his catcher's sentiments.
"They are a great bunch of kids, whether they're playing baseball or not," said Passaro. "They are just great to be around and I expect they will all be very successful in everything they do - much like they were on the baseball field. Kids like this don't come around very often."
Warren entered Monday looking for the school's very first PIAA baseball victory after securing the team's first D-10 Class AAA title in 35 years just one short week ago.
Things looked good from the start as Warren starter senior Matt Jaskolka and Thomas Jefferson senior Joe Shaffer went pitch for pitch.
Jaskolka was perfect through the first two innings, striking out three of the six batters he faced. Shaffer wasn't bad himself allowing only a walk to Bevevino and an Eddie Dorunda single as the score remained tied at 0-0 after two innings.
The Jaguars - the third seed out of District 7 - broke through in the third inning, taking advantage of some ill-timed Dragon miscues.
With one out, Eric Fairman delivered Thomas Jefferson's first hit of the game with a double. After an infield pop out, second baseman Ryan Ruffing reached on an error, putting runners on first and third with two out.
The Jaguars' next batter, Joe McHugh, survived an eight-pitch at-bat with a walk, bringing Major League Baseball pitching prospect Greg Schneider to the dish with the bases loaded. Schneider delivered, crushing a three-run double over the head of Warren right fielder Collin Fantaskey to put the Jaguars on top, 3-0.
All three of the runs were unearned - something that would become a trend during the night.
Both teams struggled to get anything going offensively through the completion of the fifth inning as Thomas Jefferson held the 3-0 lead. In the top of the sixth, the Jaguars stretched the lead to 4-0 with another unearned run.
Designated hitter Bruno Natter was walked and moved to third on the first of two sixth-inning Warren errors. The second error allowed Natter to score from third and Thomas Jefferson led, 4-0.
Things looked bleak for the Dragons as the Jaguars opted to lift Shaffer in the sixth and insert Schneider into the game. Entering Monday's game, Schneider was 9-1 on the season with a 0.19 ERA in 75 1/3 innings pitched. He had 126 strikeouts and is listed among Baseball America's top 500 amateur prospects.
Instead of buckling under the pressure, the Dragons rose to the occasion.
Bevevino was the first batter Schneider faced and the senior catcher promptly tripled to deep left-center. Hank Morrison - another senior - followed with a walk, but the Jaguars appeared close to getting out of the jam with two quick outs. Yet another senior - Preston McMeans - came to the plate and ripped a shot to shortstop and Thomas Jefferson finally made a mistake.
The ball got past the shortstop and Bevevino and Morrison both scored to get Warren within two at 4-2. A Collin Fantaskey groundout ended the inning, but Warren had the momentum with an inning remaining.
Jaskolka, who pitched a great game in going all seven innings and allowing no earned runs on just three hits while striking out seven, kept the Dragons' momentum going. He sat the visitors down in seventh without allowing any more runs to score.
Down to their last three outs for the second time this postseason, the Dragons started the seventh with a flurry. Kory Thomas and Chris Danielson - two more seniors - hit back-to-back singles to get things going. Schneider responded with a strikeout of Bevevino and Morrison grounded into a fielder's choice to put runners on the corners with two down.
That brought Kevin VanOrd to the plate and the senior worked the count full before being set down on a borderline 3-2 pitch to end the game.
"They just took advantage of our mistakes," said Passaro. "That third inning was just kind of a worst-case scenario. We had two outs with one on and then we had the error, their two batter worked a walk and Schneider just delivered when it mattered. We knew he wasn't the guy we wanted up and that situation and he showed why."
All six runs mustered by the two clubs were unearned. That fact wasn't lost on Passaro.
"We should still be playing right now," he said. "We handed them all four runs they scored and they handed us the runs we scored. It should be 0-0 in the eighth inning while we're here talking."
While the loss certainly stings, the Dragons will likely take much happier memories from a season that has been unmatched in the previous three and a half decades of baseball.
"These kids did some special things," said Passaro. "They have a lot to be proud of."
"Right now, it really stings," he said. "But after the sadness goes away, I'm going to remember a lot more good memories than bad. Because there were so many more good things that we did. Down the road, I'm not going to remember how this game ended. But winning the District 10 title - those memories last forever. They never die."
THOMAS JEFFERSON (4): Ruffing 2b 4-1-1-0, McHugh ss 3-1-0-0, Schneider cf-p 3-0-1-3, Natter 3b 2-1-0-0, Hall dh-c 3-0-0-0, Toboz cr 0-0-0-0, Shaffer p-1b 3-0-0-0, Booher lf-cf 2-0-0-0, Fairman 1b-lf 3-1-1-0, Campano rf 3-0-0-0, Carranza c 0-0-0-0. Totals 26-4-3-3.
WARREN (2): Danielson cf 4-0-1-0, Bevevino c 3-1-2-0, Morrison 3b 3-1-0-0, VanOrd dh 4-0-0-0, Dorunda 2b 2-0-1-0, Jaskolka p 2-0-0-0, McMeans 1b 3-0-0-0, Fantaskey rf 3-0-0-0, Thomas ss 3-0-1-0, Maeder lf 0-0-0-0. Totals 27-2-5-0.
Thomas Jefferson 003 001 - 4 3 1
Warren 000 002 0 - 2 5 3
2b-Fairman (T), Bevevino (W). 3b-Schneider (T), McHugh (T), Bevevino (W). WP-Shaffer. LP-Jaskolka. Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-k): W-Jaskolka 7-3-4-0-2-7; T-Shaffer 5-2-0-0-1-2; Schneider 2-3-2-0-2-1.